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SONY DVP-NS400D, £330

 

Don't get us wrong, Sony's latest mid-range player the DVP-NS400 is a fine machine with a very solid spec, but there's little sign of the sparkle and glitz that characterised many of Sony's first and second-generation players. Could this be another sign, if one were needed, that DVD has now matured into a mainstream home entertainment technology?

 

The NS400 has on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoders, which – along with the Sony name -- goes some way towards explaining the higher than average price, though it does have quite a good assortment of secondary features. They include a chapter digest facility that displays a screen full of stills grabbed from the start of each chapter. It has a selection of pseudo surround modes to beef up the stereo sound output, when its connected to a TV and the remote handset can control a small selection of TVs and AV amplifiers from other makers. 

 

Most functions are controlled through a set of colourful on-screen displays which Sony calls Magic Pad. And very pretty it is too and mostly easy to use though a lot of useful functions are buried deeply in layers of sub menus. Calling up the chapter digest feature, for example, can involve no less than 15 button presses and the otherwise excellent speaker setup menus are at least 20 button presses away. Connecting the player up to an AV system shouldn't be a problem though, it has two SCART AV sockets configured for S-Video and RGB plus a full set of analogue and digital audio outputs. Playback options are confined to two-speed slomo and three speed picture search (2x 10x & 20x), the latter takes some getting used to as the on-screen displays shows 2x then 1 and 2, as you step through the speeds.

 

The more or less constant rain in Godzilla provides a useful early indicator of this player's ability to resolve fine detail, you can see almost every drop and it produces one of the sharpest pictures we've seen in a while, revealing every crag and crease in Clint Eastwood's face in Space Cowboys. It is also particularly, good at rendering tricky shades like skin tones, even in dimly lit scenes like the interior of the satellite Clint and his geriatric buddies are sent to repair, which manages to look crisp and interesting. Dolby Digital soundtracks via the built in decoder are lively and dynamic with effects and movement sharply focused.

 

Verdict

A thoroughly decent player that turns in a very respectable AV performance and we'd happily give it house room, but it's a surprisingly conventional design, for Sony at least, which has been responsible for some highly desirable machines in the past couple of years.

 

Sony (0990) 111999, www.sony.co.uk

 

Ratings

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Features                       5

Ease of Use                  3

Build Quality                  4

Value for Money            3

 

Pros

Superb picture and sound, generally well specified

 

Cons

Some useful functions buried deeply on the fancy looking on-screen displays

 

Rival Buys

Hitachi DV-P705 £350

Panasonic DVD-RV40 £350

Thomson DTH-4500 £330

 

Quote 20

'… on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoders, which – along with the Sony name -- goes some way towards explaining the higher than average price'

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

SONY DVP-NS400D

£                                  £330

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Maybe not a classic but still a highly desirable little player

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD/Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE                          93

 

 

 

PHILIPS DVD-722, £220

In the past we've criticised Philips DVD players for being a touch idiosyncratic with cranky controls or a strange assortment of AV sockets, or both, so we were quite looking forward to it's newest entry-level player, the DVD-722, to see if had anything had changed.

 

Well, it's a bit better, but not by much. The on-screen displays are still plagued with strange little icons that don't really tell you much, and the layout of the remote handsets means you can still get into a tangle if you're not looking what you're doing. Doubling up the chapter skip and picture search buttons is a bad idea as sure eggs are eggs you'll end up skipping when you wanted to be searching, and vice versa. Talking of picture search, the 722 suffers from the same daft arrangement as its recently launched (and very similarly specified) stablemate the DVD-701 of having extra picture search speeds hidden away on the on-screen menu.

 

The socket situation has changed on this machine, though it's hard to say whether it has improved or deteriorated. It has an S-Video output socket, (absent without leave on the 701), both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, but there's only one SCART socket (the 701 had two) though this one has an RGB output, which should please loyal owners of Philips TVs, who have in the past been denied the best possible picture quality from some of its players.

 

Secondary features are fairly thin on the ground, it has a set of picture presets (rich, natural, soft & user set), a 3D sound option, there's a separate sub-woofer output and it has a zoom facility, though it's not very sophisticated as it forces the player into still frame mode. It can play MP3 tracks recorded on CD-R/RW discs and it has a Favourite Track Selection that stores up to 20 track numbers per disc in the player's memory.

 

Picture and sound performance isn't significantly different to the 701 and it scores reasonably well on both counts. The intense colours and wealth of detail in Toy Story is faithfully reproduced and well balanced contrast means it copes just as easily with the darker stuff, in particular the opening moments in Men In Black -- set on the side of the highway – which reveals rich textures and details in the actors clothes and faces. The separate sub-woofer output is a bonus and helps beef up the normal stereo sound, Dolby Surround effects are sharply defined and background hiss is well below average. 

 

Verdict

The DVD-722 is a slight improvement on the curiously similar DVD-701. Picture and sound quality are both quite good but there's nothing about it that really grabs your attention or makes it stand out against the backdrop of the dozen or more other machines in the same price bracket.

 

Philips 020 8689 2166

 

Ratings

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Features                       5

Ease of Use                  5

Build Quality                  5

Value for Money            5

 

Pros

Decent picture and sound

 

Cons

Idiosyncratic controls and remote,

 

Rival Buys

Bush DVD-2004 £200

Hitachi DV-PV305 £250

Samsung DVD-511 £230

 

Quote 20

'In the past we've criticised Philips DVD players for being a touch idiosyncratic with cranky controls or a strange assortment of AV sockets'

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

PHILIPS DVD-722

£                                  £220

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Satisfactory performance but lacklustre spec

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE                          93

 

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 2105

 

 

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